And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” –Luke 2:8-12
Do you have a nativity set at home that your family puts out around Christmas time? Take a look at it sometime, and think about just how strange and wonderful and surprising that little scene is.
If you were the King of the world about to start your long-planned rescue mission, how would you do it? March in with a big army? Ride on a white horse, with shining armor and servants and trumpets blaring? Would you go on all the TV news stations and announce your plans? Would you plaster it all over Facebook so that everyone would know? Would you gather all the presidents and prime ministers and kings and generals and make them do whatever you said?
King Jesus, the greatest king who has ever lived, arriving on the greatest rescue mission the world has ever seen, did none of those things. The rescue mission started with one angel bringing some news to one young girl in a small town in an obscure part of the world that nobody cared about. And when Jesus was born that first Christmas night, the news wasn’t announced to kings and presidents. It was announced to the last people you would have ever thought: stinky shepherds.
That’s right, shepherds. Back in Bible times, shepherds were kind of like garbage collectors today. It was an important job, but it was a lowly, smelly job that most people didn’t want. Nobody ever said, “I want to be a shepherd when I grow up.” Being a shepherd was a job you got made fun of for having. Shepherds were rough around the edges, not the kind of people you would invite to nice parties.
But these were the people that God wanted at his Son’s birthday party. When the angel announced to the shepherds, “Today a Savior has been born for you,” he meant, “For you stinky shepherds, and everyone else that nobody cares about.” That’s why the next thing the angel said was, “Here’s a sign for you shepherds: the promised King isn’t in a palace. You’ll find him in a stable, in a manger. He’s poor, just like you.”
The shepherds couldn’t believe their ears. God had sent his Son, the promised King… for them? And sure enough, they found the baby just like the angels had said. He wasn’t dressed in royal robes; he was wrapped in swaddling clothes, just like any other poor baby in the not-so-nice side of town. He wasn’t in a palace; he was in a manger… just like the manger the shepherds probably had at their own houses. The promised king even smelled kind of like a shepherd, laying there in that feeding trough surrounded by animals.
That’s because this King hadn’t come to have servants and armies and to sit on a throne. He had come to be a servant, to love the forgotten and the nobodies, and to give his life away for people just like these stinky shepherds.